A Different Person Now: Embracing New Seasons

This year, I’ve had the experience of being one of the “older” (or, more seasoned) moms, at my younger daughter’s preschool. For several of the other moms, this is their first encounter with school. They’ve enrolled their oldest children for the first time, and drop them off and pick them up with their younger kiddos in tow—infant car seats, burp cloths and all.

On the mornings when Anna is in school, I walk to a nearby library to write. Several times, the other moms have invited me to join them in the school lounge. Many times, they camp out in there—similar to how I camp out in the library—and chat as they feed and change their babies.

Every time, I’ve thanked them as I’ve bowed out, apologizing that I had work to do.

The other day, I dropped Anna off. I smiled and waved goodbye to the other moms. And as I walked to the library, I realized I had been those moms, when Grace was starting that preschool and Anna was still a baby.

Not so long ago, that was me. My days were more flexible; I had more time for off-the-cuff commiserating about sleep schedules and first foods. But I wasn’t that person anymore; I was somebody different now.

I remember when both my girls were babies, all the cozy moments we had together, all the much-appreciated conversation I exchanged with other parents (some of whom became friends) at parks and playgrounds and anything that was open by 9 a.m. on a Saturday. I’m thankful for that time in our life.

I’m also thankful for this time now, when my children are a little more independent, and I can be a little more independent too.

Ice Skates

Earlier this week, I came across the book “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up” by Marie Kondo. I remembered that this book was popular a few years ago. (Usually, I’m a few years behind on a trend.)

Have you read this book, friends? I just started it, but I’m enjoying it. I very much appreciate its message about living in the present and making the most of the present. For example, this passage on pages 117-118 struck me:

“And what about things from your own childhood? Do you still keep your report cards or graduation certificates…Let all those letters you received years ago…go. The purpose of a letter is fulfilled the moment it is received…It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.”

Kondo’s last line there resonated with me: “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure.”

That perspective gave me permission, in a way, to consider letting go of some things I’ve kept with me through some of our cross-country moves—some things that have been packed up in boxes since our season in Virginia, nearly nine years ago.

As you know, our family of four moved into our home here in New York this past spring. Seven months later, we’re fairly unpacked. In the basement, however, remain a few lingering boxes.

A friend of ours needed some boxes, which motivated me to unpack some of ours—three, to be exact. On Sunday afternoon, I opened up these boxes.

Opening up boxes—often an exercise in nostalgia.

I like to think of myself as a minimalist, but the truth is, like everyone else, I have more stuff than I think I do. I unpacked towels, a spare set of sheets, a beautiful robe I’ve worn probably three times. I found a hard hat (Stanton’s), an alphabet puzzle (the girls’) and a bunch of cords.

Marie Kondo has a thought about cords: “If you see a cord and wonder what on earth it’s for, chances are you’ll never use it again” (page 110). She advocates for discarding cords that are a mystery to you.

I didn’t discard our cords—I didn’t discard anything, except a few broken toys—but as this week has gone on, I’ve continued reflecting on new seasons…Kondo’s book…and the boxes we keep in our homes, closed up and stored away.

Opening up boxes—often an exercise in nostalgia.

It’s a new season, literally, here in upstate New York: winter. Yesterday morning, snow was falling as I loaded the girls into the car for school.

“Wow!” Grace exclaimed, gazing up at the sky.

“Build a snowman?” Anna asked, hopeful.

“Please get into the car, girls,” I said. “We’re almost late.”

Instead, Anna pointed at me and laughed with delight. “Mom! Snowflakes in your hair!”

I couldn’t help but smile. And I took a moment to take in the snowfall, and the snowflakes. It is amazing that each snowflake is unique.

I was talking with my brother Jared a few nights ago. As we were on the phone, the girls were yelling in the background. “Oh, my gosh,” I said.

“One day, you’ll miss this,” Jared replied.

People say that, but… “We’ll see,” I said.

There must be a happy medium between nostalgia, and Marie Kondo’s magic of tidying up (i.e., throw things away). A balancing act of respecting the past, and embracing the present. Embracing new seasons.

Every holiday season, families gather together. Sometimes when we get together, we find that we revert to roles or personas from our childhood that aren’t us anymore—that don’t represent who we are today. It’s an easy, perhaps even automatic, thing to do. We don’t have to do it, though. We can choose to be the person we are now, all the time.

Until, of course, we evolve into the person we are next. Someone with a little more silver in their hair, and hopefully some wisdom to go along with it.

Yesterday was a little bit of a long day. At the end of it, I was cleaning up in the kitchen. Stanton was on his way home, and the girls were in the breakfast nook; I had just refilled their cups of milk.

I overheard Anna say, “Mom is nice. Do you like Mom, Grace?”

“Yes, I love Mom, Anna,” Grace said, and I could picture her shaking her head a little at Anna. Because I know Grace, and that’s what she would do.

Something I didn’t know until it happened—and I imagine this is true for many parents—is how much I would love being someone’s mom. How much I would treasure that, even on days that are a little bit long, and ones when we’re almost late. Motherhood is an all-season, always-a-part-of-you state of mind.

Luckily, some things don’t change.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

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Mom, Nothing Happened How We Planned

‘Tis the season for all sorts of get-in-the-holiday-spirit celebrations, occasions and parties. I can be a bit of a Clark Griswold this time of the year. If fun things are happening, why not partake in them?

This past weekend, I was perusing the events calendar of a local website when I discovered that the annual Empire State Plaza Holiday Tree Lighting was slated for Sunday, downtown at the State Capitol. Stanton, the girls and I had gone last year and enjoyed the festivities. Why not make it a family tradition?

I ran the idea by my husband. “There’s a free kids’ concert at 3 p.m., ice skating at the plaza right after and then the tree lighting. What do you think?”

We had just returned home from a friend’s birthday party. Stanton blinked. “OK…sounds good.”

“There’s free parking too,” I added, gesturing to my laptop.

“That’s great, Mel,” Stanton said.

On Sunday afternoon, our party of four headed downtown, as planned. Our first stop was The Egg, an oval-shaped performing arts venue, to see the concert by the local Zucchini Brothers. Grace and Anna loved their fun music; Stanton and I appreciated the witty lyrics to their songs, such as “I Can’t Put This Toy Together.”

After the concert wrapped up, Grace said, “I can’t wait to go ice skating.”

“It’s going to be so much fun,” I agreed. We made our way outside to the plaza.

It was December in upstate New York, so we had bundled up with layers, hats and gloves. But walking outside, we all felt warm. This year was warmer than last year had been. Possibly because of that, the plaza also seemed busier.

Lots of people were outside, sipping hot apple cider…and ice skating. The ice skating rink was packed. We all needed to rent ice skates, and we soon found out there were no rentals left. It was 4:30 p.m.; the tree lighting was scheduled for 5:15 p.m., at which time the rink would be closed.

“Let’s go buy ice skates, and then come back,” Grace suggested.

“Just buy some,” Anna seconded.

“Buy some”—my daughters’ go-to solution for life’s inconveniences. We need to work on that.

“Honey, we don’t have enough time,” Stanton told Grace. “We can’t ice skate today. But we will another day.”

Grace frowned.

“Why don’t we get a snack?” I said. “That would be a fun thing to do before the tree lighting.”

“Not as fun as ice skating,” Grace said, but we all agreed on getting a snack.

The food truck that was serving hot apple cider and apple cider doughnuts had a long, long line. So we made our way to a nearby McDonald’s for McFlurrys.

“I love McFlurrys,” Grace said, perking up.

“Me too!” cheered Anna.

I smiled at Stanton. We had salvaged the situation.

At the McDonald’s, Stanton ordered a round of McFlurrys. The lady behind the counter smiled apologetically. “I’m sorry, we’re out of McFlurrys.”

Stanton and I looked at each other.

Grace’s jaw dropped.

You have got to be kidding me. McDonald’s is out of McFlurrys?

“OK, let’s get hot chocolate instead,” I said.

“Yum!” Anna said.

Grace crossed her arms. “Mom. You said I could have a McFlurry.”

“Let’s wait over here,” I said, ushering the girls to a table while Stanton shared our amended order with the lady behind the counter.

The girls and I sat down. Grace looked at me. “Mom.”

“Yes, honey.”

“Nothing happened how we planned.”

Rain Boots

For better or worse, I’m an optimist. I tried to help my daughter see the bright side. “We did see the Zucchini Brothers…”

“What I was really excited about was ice skating.”

“Now we’re enjoying being together…”

“How could McDonald’s be out of McFlurrys?”

I paused, mid pep talk. “You know, Grace, that’s an excellent question. It’s weird that McDonald’s is out of McFlurrys.”

“So weird!” exclaimed Anna, shaking her little head.

Grace laughed; I joined in. (We can always count on Anna to cheer us up.)

Stanton rejoined us, with the hot chocolate. Grace peered inside hers. “There are no marshmallows—my favorite,” she observed.

I groaned.

Mom, nothing happened how we planned.

Reflecting on the spot you find yourself in now, friends—did you plan it this way? Did your journey unfold, step by step, just as you planned? Did everything go according to plan?

Or—if you glance around—are you in the place you are now somewhat unexpectedly? Somewhat by chance…or even accidentally, perhaps? Did you just kind of get here, despite best-laid plans?

For me, I would have to pick Option No. 2 (Plan B). And that’s OK. Actually…it’s good.

I folded my hand over my daughter’s. I told her I knew she liked marshmallows. But give this hot chocolate a try, I encouraged. It had whipped cream on top; that was something different that could be something good.

“Even when things don’t happen how we planned,” I added, “we can still find good things in what is happening.”

Grace sipped her hot chocolate. “It is good,” she acquiesced.

Both my daughters have been learning so much in school this year, so many good skills and important lessons. I’m deeply thankful to their insightful, patient teachers.

I also want to instill in my girls the value of being flexible. The ability to adapt and roll with the punches when life doesn’t happen perfectly. Because based on my experience, that’s a vital, sustainable skill—being flexible and accepting that some days aren’t perfect, and then moving forward with fortitude and grace.

About two months ago, I finished writing an essay I thought would be a good fit—actually, the perfect fit—for a magazine. I sent it to the editor there, hopeful that she would like it and that my byline would appear in an upcoming issue of the magazine.

A week later, she emailed me back. My essay wasn’t a good fit for them at this time, she said. I was surprised, and disappointed.

Not giving up, I reworked my essay and sent it to another editor at another magazine. It’s been a month now, and I have yet to hear back from my second try. That’s usually not an encouraging sign, so I’ve begun tweaking my essay again, readying it to share with a third publication.

Life, in general, is not easy. Work, usually, is not easy either. Necessary, yes. Meaningful, yes. Fulfilling, hopefully. But work, life and work/life can be difficult, can be discouraging.

The wisdom I’d like to impart to my daughters is to keep going, even when nothing happens how we planned, or hoped for. Keep going; keep moving forward. Don’t stop.

…that was something different that could be something good.

And don’t look back. At least, don’t look back too much. Don’t regret, or wish for, roads not taken. Because this is where you are now. And you can do wonderful things here.

Is anyone among us exactly where they planned to be? Has everything been perfect, and positive, every step of the way?

I can’t imagine that’s true for anyone. And the beauty in that—the universal silver lining in everyone’s imperfection—is that every one of us has something in common with the other. Disappointment, loss, various Plan B’s.

We’re more alike than we are different. We’re not alone.

Darius Rucker—formerly of Hootie and the Blowfish fame, now a solo country artist—came out with a song in 2010 that I love to this day. It’s called “This,” and these are the lyrics that often resonate with me:

“Maybe it didn’t turn out like I planned
Maybe that’s why I’m such, such a lucky man…

Thank God for all I missed
‘Cause it led me here to
This.”

For me, “this” is my family—all of them, but especially Stanton and our two girls. If, years ago, one of my meticulously plotted plans or first-choice scenarios had actually happened, then possibly (probably) I wouldn’t have “this” now.

I also wouldn’t have all those things that only imperfect paths and Plan B’s can give you: humility, strength of character, guts, courage, gratitude.

(What is your “this,” friends?)

One of my favorite quotes is this one, from Steve Jobs: “If you really look closely, most overnight successes took a long time.” We need to keep trying, even after professional setbacks (ahem, multiple rejections to what I think is a quality piece of writing). We need to make the best of could-be-better personal disappointments.

All that being said…have you ever heard of McDonald’s being out of McFlurrys?

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

3 Tries to Get the Furniture Right

I almost didn’t write this post. Would anyone (besides my sister) care about the evolution of the furniture arrangement in my family room?

Then I remembered my surprise at how many people read and shared a previous post, “My Life Is Not a Pottery Barn Catalog,” in which I divulged pictures of my messy house back in Texas. Lesson learned: We like to peek inside people’s lives.

We especially like to peek inside their junk drawers. (I’ll show you ours next time.) 😉

So, friends, here’s another peek, in case you might still be interested.

Stanton, the girls and I moved into our “new” home in April, about seven months ago. Our Cape Cod-style house was built in the 1930s, and we love its old-school craftsmanship. We especially love the walkable neighborhood that surrounds it. Like many older homes, though, ours has smaller, contained spaces. A challenge has been making some of these spaces work, particularly the family room.

Our favorite feature of the family room is the fireplace. When we first moved in, we put the couch adjacent to the fireplace. We thought this arrangement would allow us to enjoy the coziness of the fireplace, while separating the family room from the dining space in the back.

1_Family Room 1st

The problem with this plan was that it limited seating. We had a settee under the bay window across from the couch, but nobody sat there much. Mostly, the girls used the settee as an operating table for their toys when they played “Hospital.” (This is real life with kids, right?)

Several months later, we moved the couch so that it faced the fireplace, with space behind the couch as a separate entrance/walkway. I scrolled through the thousands of photos on my phone, and the best depiction of this layout that I could come up with is this one:

2_Family Room 2nd

Yes, this picture also reveals Stanton partaking in a Sunday Night Football game while Grace watches with shared interest, and Anna (not interested) peruses an issue of High Five. Before I snapped this memory, I was hiding in the kitchen, eating my dinner in peace. Yes, friends, we know: We won’t be winning any parenting awards anytime soon. 🙂

This second furniture arrangement worked well, for a while. Then on Sunday, we put up our Christmas tree, near the fireplace. And suddenly, we had limited seating again (the tree replaced a chair we had nestled there).

On Wednesday evening, I told the girls I was going to try one last interior design idea for the family room. I began moving the couch. Anna started crying.

“I love the couch!” she yelled. “Put it back!”

“I’m just putting it over here,” I tried to explain. As Anna watched with suspicion, I rearranged the coffee table and two end tables too.

Grace crossed her arms at my vision. “This doesn’t feel like home,” she announced.

Anna crossed her arms too. Her assessment: “I don’t like it, Mom.”

Lord. Help. Me.

“Girls, come on now.”

Grace tried to reason with me. “Mom, what happens when Dad comes home? He’s not going to have any idea what’s going on.”

I had to smile, friends. Because it wouldn’t be the first time…

“Dad be lost,” Anna worried.

I gestured around the family room. “Girls, I think this is good. I think this is it. Why don’t we give it a try?”

My daughters looked at each other. Sighed. “OK, we’ll try,” Grace said.

Here’s the family room, currently. (Like all aspiring lifestyle bloggers, I swept up the Cocoa Krispies crumbs and shoved the girls’ toys out of sight before grabbing my camera!)

3_Family Room 3rd

In this case, I feel as though the third time was the charm. After the holidays, I’d like to get an arm chair to go where the Christmas tree is. It would be a cozy spot, I think, for one of us to read (or watch Sunday Night Football), and for guests to get comfortable at the end of the day. And one day, I’d like to get a big piece of local artwork to hang above the couch. For the moment, though, everything feels good.

Your thoughts, friends?

Through the years, in the various homes I’ve lived in, I’ve found it takes a little time to find “the right spot” for everything. Everything doesn’t fall into place at once.

It can be hard to be patient. And it can be discouraging to fumble through imperfect furniture arrangements, specifically, and wrong turns, generally. Missteps, and mistakes.

But eventually, you find your way. You see the light at the end of the tunnel—you get there. You arrive. You figure it out, and you feel peace.

I love this quote from the writer Neil Gaiman, and it’s fitting for this time of the year: “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

Do something—an energizing New Year’s resolution, perhaps.

Thanks so much for checking in with me today, friends. Have a great day.

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Tell Me About Me: Stories Kids (and Grownups) Love to Hear

Both our daughters love when Stanton or I read to them. Lately, Anna especially has been requesting more and more time with books. She’ll pull one book after another off a bookshelf…stack them all into a tall, teetering pile…and then call, “Mom! Dad! MOMDADMOMDAD!”

We’ll hurry over. Anna will point to the pile. “Read all my favorite stories?” She’ll add a smile; we’ll sigh.

One afternoon, after reading for forty-five minutes or so, I felt my eyelids begin to droop. Many parents have found that reading to their children helps lull them, the kids, to sleep. For me, reading to Anna lulls me to sleep. I closed my eyes. “How about,” I suggested, “I tell you a story?” Telling a story—something I could do half-asleep.

Happily, Anna agreed. “Tell me about me!”

Kids love to hear stories about themselves, don’t they? Actually, we all do. So I began telling Anna the story of when she was born.

The story of when you were born—everyone’s personal favorite.

“I was so happy to see you,” I said.

“Mom gave me kisses,” Anna added. “Smooch, smooch!”

I’ve told her this story before, many times, and she loves it as much as I do.

“Yes, I kissed you so much,” I confirmed. “Then I gave you some milk…”

“Then I had scrambled eggs…”

My eyes blinked open. “What?” I started laughing. I had never said that, and obviously, Anna had not eaten any solid protein minutes after birth.

Anna frowned at me. “Stop laughing, Mom.”

“Honey, that’s not true. I did not give you scrambled eggs.”

“Yes, you did!” Now Anna was yelling. “I had scrambled eggs! I had milk and scrambled eggs!”

I could tell we weren’t going to be able to have a rational conversation. (This may be one of the hardest parts of parenting small children: dealing with wildly irrational behavior.) “If you say so,” I said.

Anna nodded. “Milk and scrambled eggs,” she said. “And Grace sang to me…”

I picked up with the story. “Yes, Grace sang ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ to you when she met you…”

The story of when you were born—everyone’s personal favorite.

In telling a story, have you ever had to change it? To finesse the facts, so to speak, in order to move the conversation forward, as I did with Anna? Or, as my husband would say, lie?

(I don’t like to say lie…)

Storytellers—especially when they answer to “Mom” or “Dad”—are not court reporters, or accountants, or any other kind of official record keepers. And in family life particularly, we narrate these scenes of shared history not to develop a personal Encyclopedia Britannica, but to revisit and remember milestones and more everyday moments alike—all the occasions that make a family just that: a family.

The upcoming holidays will be prime time for family storytelling. At dinner tables, or on couches in front of TV’s showing a football game or animated movie, or wherever else we might gather with our loved ones…we’ll tell (actually, we’ll re-tell) the memory of, “That time when…”

If we’re lucky, we have lots of “times when.” Even if we wouldn’t have considered ourselves lucky at the time…every time was an experience. Every time became a story. And taught us something about life, or love, or surviving. Our “times when.”

Handprints 11-15-17

What stories do you re-tell holiday after holiday, year after year, so much so that everyone knows the punch line (but wants to listen anyway)? That feeling of being part of a history, of being known, is, simply, awesome. And more often than not, it makes any holiday stress worth it.

For those of us who celebrate Friendsgivings, or help serve holiday meals at soup kitchens, or spend the holidays in less traditional ways…storytelling probably appears on these menus too. We can’t help but make connections, or make sense of our lives, through stories. “To be a person is to have a story to tell,” said author Isak Dinesen.

From when I was growing up, and even now, I remember telling a story and then glancing at my sister, who’s seven years younger, to add, “You weren’t born yet.” Today, Grace does the same thing with Anna. We’ll be talking about Grace’s first birthday party, or first time flying on a plane, and Grace will inform Anna (not always graciously), “You weren’t born yet.”

To have not been born yet—to have missed out on that story in your family’s history—it’s the plight of youngest siblings everywhere, isn’t it?

Anna, as I’ve shared, has a flexible sense of history, and reality. So, bless her heart, she’ll often retort to Grace, “Yes, I was! I was born yet!”

(Luckily for our youngest siblings, they’re often the hardiest of us all.)

The truth is, the stories we tell—the way we remember things—they’re all imperfect. The details can get fuzzy in our memories…so we do the best we can in relaying those facts. And things don’t always start when we think they do, or end when we stop talking…stop telling the story.

Beginnings and endings can be just as permeable as our memories. Just as arbitrary. “There is no real ending,” according to Frank Herbert—“just the place where you stop the story.”

That feeling of being part of a history, of being known, is, simply, awesome.

What matters, I think, are the people. The people you were there with when the story unfolded in real time. The people you’re telling the story to now—the people you’re sharing the memory with.

When those people are the same—when you’ve been together, and stuck it out, since way back when—you’re lucky, friends. You’re lucky to have had family or friends along for so much of your journey: shotgun riders to your stories. And one day, you’ll be glad they’re there to help you remember the punch lines, and color in any details that you missed.

The people in the stories are what matter. Family. Friends, both old and new. People who passed through—people whom we miss, maybe—but to whom we feel gratitude for the wisdom they left us.

We shouldn’t stretch the truth too much, in the name of a good story. We should try to keep the facts straight. Anyway, a good story can stand on its own legs.

One day, I will tell Anna there were no scrambled eggs in her delivery room.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

To Think You Might Have Missed This

Saturday morning is, arguably, many people’s favorite time of the week. It’s mine, for sure. Maybe yours too.

During the week, Stanton usually travels two or three days for work. In general, every Monday through Friday is a mad dash of school drop-off and pick-up, thrown-together meals and deadline-driven notes to self (“New tires, CR-V!” “Literary magazine submission!” “DENTIST!!!”).

Saturday morning, though…we’re all together. The girls still get up at the same time (they have yet to discover the pure joy of sleeping in), but the pace is relaxed, not mad-dash.

On a recent Saturday morning, Stanton got up with the girls and began getting their breakfast ready. The scent of freshly brewed hazelnut coffee soon lulled me into the kitchen too. Within a few minutes, the four of us were sitting together around the table in the breakfast nook.

Grace finished eating her waffle and asked for another one. I rose and toasted another round of frozen waffles. “More syrup, please!” Anna called.

“And butter, please!” Grace added.

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they? I brought the girls’ requests to the table. Grace opened a board book, then frowned. “Anna must have been looking at this,” she said, wiping her hands on her pajamas.

“Is it sticky?” I guessed.

Grace raised her eyebrows me. “It’s really sticky.”

Stanton and I met each other’s gaze and smiled. Yes, that sounded like Anna.

“My favorite story!” Anna pointed to the book. As she did, she knocked over some of Stanton’s coffee.

“Be careful, honey,” I said. Stanton wiped up the spill.

Anna smiled and shrugged. “It happens, Mom.”

Saturday mornings are made for waffles, syrup and butter, aren’t they?

Grace sighed. I’m a big sister, too, and I could guess what Grace was thinking about her younger sibling: Trouble. I love both my daughters so much; they each make me smile in their own ways.

“To think,” I joked to Stanton, “you might have missed this.” The spill, the stickiness, the general messiness—but a wonderful messiness—of a family’s Saturday morning.

The day before, Stanton had been out of town, a work trip. I had encouraged him to stay the night where he was and drive back, refreshed, in the morning. But he wanted to be here with us in the morning, he said.

“I would have missed it,” Stanton said, finishing wiping up Anna’s spill.

I loved him for saying that—for meaning it.

When you think about the people you love, and why you appreciate them, that’s the reason, often—the clichéd “because they’re there for you.” There for you. They do everything they can not to miss things, from big things to little things (like too much Saturday-morning syrup).

*

There have been some things I’ve missed. Not with my children so much, but with my siblings because of my children. Sometimes child-care logistics have encumbered my “being there” for my two brothers and sister. Luckily, my siblings have (usually) understood. The four of us are stuck with one another for life, so we’ll always, somehow, figure things out.

Later this week, I’m taking a bus into New York City to spend the day with my sister. “Do you want to see a show? Go to a museum?” Jenna asked me, when we began making our plans.

“Do you not know me at all?” I said; my sister laughed. “No, let’s take a walk, eat at cool little cafés and talk about Party of Five.” (Jenna and I have been rediscovering and analyzing the wonderful, underrated ‘90s drama through Netflix reruns.)

“Perfect,” Jenna said.

Little things.

*

I bought a new picture frame, with slots for four 4×6’s. I was scrolling through the photos on my phone, trying to find four good ones for this frame. A lot of the pictures made me smile. And a lot of them brought up happy memories from the past few months. Grace’s soccer games, Anna’s first day of preschool, Halloween.

The four pictures I chose for the frame, though, portrayed ordinary moments. Time with family and friends. Mainly candid shots.

The picture for Slot No. 4 shows Anna jumping into a pile of leaves I’d just raked—her smile big, her hair flipping up behind her. Grace had already jumped into the leaves, and in the picture, she’s smiling at Anna. Despite my amateur photography skills, I took the picture at the exact right moment to capture Anna’s delight, and Grace’s love for her sister.

I captured that memory, not a moment too soon.

Sparkler 11-6-17

In reflecting on that memory—in looking at that picture—I have the same hope that my mom probably had for my brothers, sister and me: I hope they’ll be good to each other. I hope they’ll be in each other’s lives for a long time.

I hope they’ll be friends.

*

The holidays are approaching, quickly. For a lot of us, that means reunions and get-togethers with family and friends. Planning, travel, gifts.

Anything out of our routine can cause some stress. We’re creatures of habit; we excel in the “everyday,” while special occasions can throw us off.

I can feel some stress during this time of the year. Maybe you do too. If you do, maybe this will help; at least, it’s helped me.

I take a deep breath. I remember Thanksgivings and Christmases from the past, all those happy memories. And I remember they’re worth it—the memories, and the moments as they were happening, were worth the effort of being there for them.

I want to be there for them.

*

“Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple” (Dr. Seuss).

It’s really sticky.

I want to be there.

Perfect.

I love you.

Yes.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

You’re Here TODAY

Earlier this week, I went to a physician for an annual checkup. Although, for me, the last time I had this “annual” checkup was about three years ago. My excuse for this negligence happened to accompany me to my doctor that morning: my 2-year-old, Anna.

Yes, Anna goes everywhere with me these days—literally. Errands during the day (grocery store, post office, you name it). My bed, most nights. The restroom, the locker room at the Y, and now my doctor’s appointment.

I tried to schedule this appointment for when my parents would be in town to babysit, but it just didn’t work out. So that morning, I told the medical assistant at the doctor’s office, “I appreciate that you all don’t mind my bringing my daughter.”

She replied, “Don’t worry.” Then she addressed Anna with a smile: “Would you like some stickers?”

Anna smiled back and shook her head. “How ‘bout lollipops?” Anna’s doctor, the pediatrician, has stickers and lollipops.

The medical assistant laughed and left to find lollipops. When she returned, she gave Anna the sweets and then turned her attention back to me. She asked me when I had last had a checkup.

“Three years ago, which I know is bad,” I began explaining. “I was pregnant with Anna, then I had Anna, then I was busy with both my daughters, then we moved, then…”

The medical assistant smiled kindly. “It’s OK,” she said. “You’re here today.”

You’re here today.

Anna smiled back and shook her head. “How ‘bout lollipops?”

The rest of my appointment went smoothly. The physician turned out to be kind as well, and Anna, thankfully, was happily occupied with lollipops, stickers and coloring books for the rest of our time there. I was grateful to have found such a great doctor’s office in our town.

After we left, I kept thinking back to what the medical assistant had said: You’re here today. Her words stayed with me all day.

You’re here today—what an uplifting message.

The medical assistant was assuring me, Don’t worry about what happened, or didn’t happen, the past few years. Today you’re on the right track. Focus on the present—what’s right in front of you.

Easier said than done sometimes, right, friends?

The next morning, Grace wanted to color a picture to mail to my grandmother. She couldn’t find the crayons. “Mom!” she called.

As it turned out, the crayons were on the kitchen table—truly, right in front of her. “Grace, remember, what’s the secret of life?” I said.

“Look,” Grace replied. Then she looked and spotted the crayons. “They’re right here!”

We both laughed.

Eyeglasses

Parents often have little sayings or words of wisdom that they say, over and over again, to their children—to the point where, possibly, they become annoying to hear. At some point in my motherhood, I said to the girls, “I’m going to tell you the secret of life. The secret is to look. Open your eyes.”

I don’t remember what prompted me to say that. (Maybe, like this most recent time, somebody didn’t see something that was right there.) And I don’t pretend to know the secret of life.

Myriad talents, from entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs to singers like James Taylor, have reflected on “the secret of life.” I can’t stay the pace with those reflections. Anyway, the “secret of life” spiel I give my daughters is, partly, tongue-in-cheek.

I do believe, though, that it’s important to look—to be present.

The medical assistant reminded me of that “be in the present” perspective when she said, “You’re here today.”

“The secret is to look. Open your eyes.”

A couple of weekends ago, my friend Kathleen came to visit. Kathleen and I went to school together from kindergarten through high school. We’re what the kids today call “Day 1’s”—friends for a long time.

As always, it was wonderful to see Kathleen and catch up. We reminisced about childhood moments. At one point, I grimaced at the memory of something my younger self had done and told Kathleen, “I can’t believe I was that person!”

I thought back to some other memories from the past. Things I wish I had done, or hadn’t. Moments I wish I had been there for, but wasn’t. I thought again—to myself this time—I wish I did that differently.

I wish I had been different.

You can’t go back. You can’t go back, friends.

You’re here today. What you can do is take what you’ve learned from the past and make good with it in your present.

And you can be present.

For all the years-behind annual checkups and annoying little sayings I blame on my daughters, they have brought a joy to my life I know I don’t deserve. They are absolute gifts in my life, friends.

One of the most humbling parts of my day is when Grace and Anna want to show me something they worked on in kindergarten or preschool. They’re so proud to share their newest math worksheet or watercolor painting with me. They hand it to me, beam at me, wait for me to tell them it’s wonderful and bear-hug them.

“Look, Mom!”

“Look! Me too, Mom! Look!”

You’re here TODAY.

Photo credit: Pixabay

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.

Book Review: The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille

The Cuban Affair Book CoverIn my high school history classes, I remember learning about Mesopotamia (the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, fourth millennium B.C.); the Magna Carta (England, 1215); and World War I. In college, I took a course called Greek and Roman Values to satisfy my history requirement. I didn’t get much formal education regarding current events post-November 11, 1918.

This is why, in large part, I enjoyed Nelson DeMille’s new novel, “The Cuban Affair” (September 2017), so much. I learned so much intriguing history about Cuba, and the international politics surrounding it, in DeMille’s work of fiction.

DeMille traveled to Cuba as field research for this book, and he wonderfully incorporates the local colors and flavors from that trip into “The Cuban Affair.” As I read this book, I really felt Cuba. DeMille engaged all my senses with his descriptions of the climate, architecture and overall feel of the Caribbean island nation. Also, I didn’t realize how close Cuba is to Key West, Florida: just 90 miles.

I really enjoyed learning about Key West too. As always, DeMille gives his main character, Mac, a former military man, a wry sense of humor. (I don’t think you can write a Nelson DeMille book review and not use the word “wry.”) I loved Mac’s wry description of his bar hangout in Key West, occurring early in the novel: “The place was starting to fill up…Freaks, geeks, loveable weirdos, and a few Hemingway look-alikes. He used to live here, and you can see his house for ten bucks. You can see mine for free. Bring a six-pack.” These words helped me see the scene Mac inhabits, and gave me a sense of Key West’s laid-back, quasi-Lost Generation vibe.

I found Mac to be a fairly well-developed character. I appreciated his social-cultural reflections on Maine, where he grew up, and his current hometown of Key West, along with his perspective on military life and, by extension, Afghanistan. Mac struck me as a man who had been to war, as his character was intended. Two examples of Mac’s reflections: “Close by was the Zero Mile Marker for U.S. Highway One, the literal end of the road that started in Maine. I’ve had a lot of profound thoughts about that, usually fueled by a few beers,” and “Portland, though, was a good place to grow up and it’s a good place to grow old. It’s the years in between that are a challenge to some people.” (Pretty deep, right? I found myself reflecting on my own “years in between.”)

At the same time, Mac seemed older than 35, the age he was supposed to be. That’s pretty much how old I am, and some of his character behaviors (or lack of behaviors) didn’t ring true to me.

For example, Mac didn’t have cell phone service in Cuba. Shouldn’t that have driven him crazy? Not being able to text, not logging in to Facebook, not playing Hearthstone? Also, Mac goes out of his way to make snide remarks about novelist Richard Neville, who is a thinly veiled fictional version of Nelson DeMille (I love how DeMille made the last names similar!). DeMille may have been having some fun with his storied alter ego, but it was hard for me to believe Mac really would have cared enough about Richard Neville to prank him with a sweaty Hemingway T-shirt.

Much of the plot of “The Cuban Affair,” once Mac gets to Cuba, depends on a series of circuitous events happening. All these events—from hoped-for encounters to code words to restored Buicks—seem a little convoluted. None of that bothered me, though, because I so appreciated the taste of Cuba and U.S./Cuban history that DeMille serves up in his engaging story. I believe, though, that you need to read this story with some suspension of disbelief. Don’t think too critically about the practicality of the various plot points, and you’ll enjoy it.

It’s a fun story, overall, and funny too. Later in the story, the anti-Castro Cuban “godfather” Eduardo explains to Mac, “‘Almost all Cubans believed that the Castro regime would not last more than a year. That the Americans would not allow a Communist country to exist off its shores’”—to which Mac sardonically considers, “Why not? We’ve got California and Vermont.” I laughed out loud, friends. Why not, indeed?

As an aside, I liked the cover design. I thought the turquoise background featuring red palm trees, one of which showed Mac’s boat, correlated beautifully with the story. Turquoise brings to mind the Florida Keys; red signals Communism. The bright color palette stands out from DeMille’s previous books, many of which present darker, more ominous palettes (“The General’s Daughter,” “Plum Island,” “Up Country”).

I have read nearly all of DeMille’s books, and “The Cuban Affair” is one of my favorites because, to me, it felt fresh and different. I also sensed the hours upon hours of research DeMille had put into this Cuban adventure, and I appreciated that a lot. “The Cuban Affair” is a worthy read.

Photo credit: Simon & Schuster

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Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short fiction e-book, “What Happens Next.” A story that’s heartfelt, relevant and can’t-put-it-down good.